Nick never used to come to me for help. It was always Brian or Kevin he’d turn to for advice or comfort. (Although, in all fairness, sometimes he used me to help him get out of tight spots with Kevin.) When he used to get in fights with the other guys, I would always be the one to approach him, to explain what he did wrong and how he could fix it. I didn’t just do that with him, mind you, I did that with whoever chucked a fit. It was just that most of the time, that person was Nick.
I don’t think he felt uncomfortable talking to me, I just think he liked it when I initiated the conversation. I also think he hated to ask me for things that would make him feel weak. For example, he loved coming over to hang with my family during the holidays but he would rather be caught dead than ask me outright. Instead he would insinuate that is what he wanted and then wait for me to ask him.
So when Kevin took AJ to his meeting with the guy AJ had ‘assaulted’ and his lawyer, I was a little more than surprised when Nick came down the stairs, Brian following closely behind, and said outright “Howie, I need your help.”
I didn’t know what to say. All I did was nod and after a few seconds I followed that nod with an ‘Of course, Nicky’. Secretly I felt my heart swell. I could remember only one time Nick had attempted to take comfort in me when there were others he could have gone to instead.
20th May, 1997
I was woken from my fevered sleep by the sound of a woman screaming outside my hotel room. I thought maybe the guys had brought back a woman with them from the clubs, but when I looked over at the bedside table I knew that couldn’t be true: it was only 7pm, they wouldn’t have left yet.
I became a little concerned. I was used to women screaming, just not outside my hotel room and usually not screaming bloody murder. I stumbled out of bed, dizzy enough that I might have fallen over had I not leaned again the bedside table and waited a few seconds for my head to straighten up. I walked to the door and pulled it open, stepping out into the hallway.
A couple of doors down hotel security were trying to restrain a middle-aged woman who had a knife in her hand. One of the security personnel had his arms wrapped around her waist and was lifting her off the ground, the other was trying to grab her wrists but dodging and weaving his limbs away from her as she erratically tried to swipe him with the knife.
Suddenly I heard commotion down the other end of the hallway and I turned my head to see two more security guards running towards the woman with Lou trailing behind, breathing heavily. The security guards passed me quickly and Lou yelled out “Boys, get back inside your rooms!”
It was only then that I noticed Kevin, AJ and Brian poking their heads out of their own rooms to see what the commotion was all about. It took only another second to realise that Nick hadn’t poked his head of his room and it was a second after that that I realised that the crazy woman with the knife was standing right outside Nick’s room.
“Lou, where’s Nicky?” I sounded terrible and I felt just as bad but it occurred to me that Nick could be in a worse condition.
Lou was watching the confrontation from only a few steps away from me, but he didn’t answer. I turned back just in time to see that finally the knife was knocked from the woman’s hand and the security guards were handcuffing her. She was still screaming something fierce, so two of the security guards lifted her off the ground and carried her away.
“What the hell was that?” Kevin demanded as the others came to join me and Lou.
Lou looked troubled.
“Nick called security,” he explained. “Apparently she was shoving the knife underneath his door.”
“What?” Brian yelled, running the few feet to Nick’s room and knocking on the door.
AJ, Kevin and Lou followed, as did I, just much slower and moving more closer to the wall.
“Nick! Open up!” Kevin yelled as Brian screamed “Frack! Are you okay?”
Nick’s voice came to us from inside the room. “Is she gone?”
“Yeah Nick,” Kevin said, sounding relieved.
The door opened and there stood Nick, shaking slightly but otherwise fine.
“Dude, are you alright?” AJ asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Nick nodded and apparently that was all the confirmation Lou needed because he quickly excused himself, stating that he needed to “deal with this mess”.
“Are you sure you’re okay Nick?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, just a bit shaken up, but I’m fine,” he said. “Really,” he added for good measure.
“Okay, well if you’re sure,” Kevin said cautiously.
Nick nodded. “I’m sure,” he said. “But I might skip tonight.” When he saw us giving him weird looks, he added, “Honestly, I just need to chill after that.”
Unsatisfied but unwilling to push it, we started heading back to our own rooms. Brian remained behind. As I was closing my door, I heard a snippet of their conversation.
“Do you want me to stay back tonight?” Brian asked.
“No,” Nick said. “Seriously Frick. I’m fine!”
I climbed back into bed thinking that that Nick really just needed to take a relaxing night off.
The next time I woke, it was to a knock on my door. I squinted at the bedside clock and found it was eleven-thirty. I groaned. I was feeling much better but still, all I wanted to do was sleep. I got out of bed and stumbled to the door.
I should have expected to find Nick there – he was the only one that would be knocking on my door – but I was still surprised.
He stood there, holding a bottle of coke, two packets of chips and a bag of popcorn.
“I thought we could watch a movie,” he said.
I gave him a sideways glance, nodded and stepped aside so he could come in. He put the food on the end of my bed and sat cross-legged next to it. I only had the one bed – queen-sized – so I sat down beside him.
“What movie do you wanna watch?” I asked, not really wanting to watch any movie but I was getting the feeling that Nick wasn’t as alright as he had claimed.
“What do you have?” he asked.
“I only have one,” I said, getting off the bed and walking to my luggage. “It’s a Latin American movie.”
“Cool,” Nick said. I thought that was strange. He NEVER wanted to watch any of my Latin American movies.
“It’s in Spanish,” I warned, grabbing the video from the luggage and showing him.
“That’s okay,” Nick replied. “We’ll put on the subtitles.”
“I thought you hate reading movies,” I said as I went to put the video in the VCR.
“Not all the time,” Nick said evasively. I was getting the impression that Nick didn’t want to be alone.
When I had the movie in the VCR and up on the TV screen, I circled back to the bed and lay down, propping myself up with a pillow to see the screen over my body. Nick remained at the end of the bed, sitting cross-legged.
Neither of us had touched the food Nick brought. I didn’t think I could keep it down but what was Nick’s excuse? I had a feeling what it might have been.
I reached forward and poked him in the back.
“Crazy today huh?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
He chuckled, not taking his eyes away from the TV. “Yeah,” he said. “Crazy.”
There was a moment of silence as I tried to figure out what to say next.
“Do you think they will all be like that?” he asked, turning around to face me, his face sombre.
I sat up a bit higher and squeezed his arm reassuringly. “Of course not Nicky,” I said with such conviction it seemed to relax him.
“Good,” was all he said. He turned back to watch the movie.
The next time I woke up, it was to a kick to my shin.
I kicked him back.
A/N: Thanks so much to libragurl, Mare and nycki02 for the reviews! I really appreciate it!! Hopefully this chapter wasn’t too cheesy but I can’t resist a good Howie/Nick bromance. It is also much shorter than the others, but that's because next chapter has no flashback and will be moving the story along with POVs from Kevin and Nick. Hope to get a new chapter in by this time next week.